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World

Tunisia's prime minister vows to step aside after vote

Tunisia's interim prime minister has promised to quit politics in a bid to appease protesters who are demanding that the old regime leave a coalition formed after the overthrow of the president.

Mohamed Ghannouchi

Ghannouchi had served as premier under President Ben Ali

Tunisia's interim Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has said he will quit power after elections being planned in the wake of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's ousting last week.

Ghannouchi made the announcement in an emotional late-night address on state television on Friday night, January 21, after another day of protests. He sought to distance himself from Ben Ali, even though he had served as the strongman's premier.

"I lived like Tunisians and I feared like Tunisians," Ghannouchi told television audiences, hoping to identify with the millions who suffered political repression under the old regime.

"I pledge to stop all my political activity after my period leading the transitional government," he added.

On Saturday, Ghannouchi hosted cabinet meetings at his office in the capital, Tunis. Police had rolled out barbed wire in anticipation of further protests, but the streets of the capital Tunis remained relatively calm. Saturday was the second of three days of national mourning declared for the dozens killed in recent unrest.

Familiar faces

Anti-government demonstrators in Tunis

Protesters gathered outside Ghannouchi's office on Friday

Some former members of Ben Ali's ruling party have retained high-profile portfolios including foreign affairs and the interior ministry in Ghannouchi's makeshift unity coalition. Dissident politicians were given less influential posts.

Five ministers have already quit the interim government in protest, including representatives of one of Tunisia's biggest trade unions.

On Friday, protesters jostled Ahmed Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Ettajdid Party and minister of higher education in the new cabinet. They were apparently angered at his role in the government they dislike.

"This government is only temporary, real representation will come through elections," Ibrahim later said in a plea to demonstrators. "The government is not in the hands of the ruling party, this claim is false."

He said the government's priority was to stabilize the situation and protect people's safety. He added it would also be a "political task to move from tyranny to democracy."

Return to normality

Protesters in Tunisia

Up to 100 people have died in the violence

The interim government said schools and universities would reopen on Monday and sporting events, on hold since last week, would also resume soon.

Ghannouchi promised that all the country's undemocratic laws would be suspended ahead of elections. He also pledged that women's rights would be preserved.

The government has offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups, including the banned Islamist opposition.

Protesters have complained that despite a promised amnesty, only a few hundred of those imprisoned for political reasons during Ben Ali's 23-year rule had been released.

The government says at least 78 people have been killed since December, when a young man burned himself to death in protest at police harassment and poverty. The United Nations has put the toll at around 100.

Author: Joanna Impey (dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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